Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Selva Oscura

from Gustave Doré's Inferno
  Dark Woods

 Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
  Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough 
And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring... (trans. Pinsky)

Not exactly a jolly post, but not without a point either. Dante Alighieri, who wrote these immortal lines, lived and breathed the air of this land in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. At Le Ripe we have such a 'dark wood' on our property, where we do not like to roam: it is north-facing, dank and the trees have been abandoned to themselves to grow tall and fall in storms. Yet it is a fragment of wilderness where porcupines, deer, boar and all the other creatures find refuge.
Dante is using the dark wood as a metaphor for a difficult moment in his life and these lines are the opening to his masterpiece La Divina Commedia. I studied Dante's Commedia many years ago; amongst other things it introduced me to the marvels of medieval Tuscany, echoes of which linger in our hills to this day.

All this was brought to mind by a delightful entry in our Visitors' Book, which I quote in part:

Midway through the potholes on the steep way
Where the straight path is lost in darkling woods
We longed to see the lights of Le Ripe
Promising cheer and warmth and other goods
Books, talk, food and suites....  

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